LIFE Viva Grass recommendations on ecosystem-based planning and grassland management
Villoslada Peciña, Miguel
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Grasslands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, providing a wide range of the ecosystem services essential for human welfare, e.g. biomass production for grazing animals, carbon storage, flood reduction, erosion prevention, water infiltration and purification, habitats for pollinators and protected species, etc. At the same time, semi-natural grasslands are among the most threatened habitat types in Europe – a substantial decrease in area and connectivity has been observed since the mid-20th century and the quality of the grassland habitats continues to deteriorate. This is also the case in the Baltic States, where the unfavourable conservation status of the semi-natural habitats has been confirmed by the last report of the Member States to the European Commission under the Article 17 requirements of the Habitats Directive. The policy analysis, carried out within the LIFE Viva Grass project, confirms that the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the strongest driver for the change in land use in the Baltic States, as well as the most influential policy instrument determining the grassland management practices and thus impacting the status of grassland ecosystems and services they provide. The financial contribution of CAP for the measures to support biodiversity maintenance is considerably higher compared to other financial mechanisms financing nature conservation. CAP and the national Rural Development Programmes (RDP) in the Baltic States support measures for maintaining grasslands and have thus minimised the trend of grassland abandonment. However, the assessment of the status of semi-natural grasslands indicates that the implementation of the RDP measures has not been efficient in halting the decline of grassland quality and thus also many of the ecosystem services provided by grasslands. The drawbacks of the rural support policy are related to rather superficial conditions for implementation of the agri-environmental measures as well as a non-motivating support policy, which is targeted more towards agriculture production, disregarding the public benefits resulting from ecosystem services provided by grasslands (e.g. healthy environment, amenities, opportunities for recreation, security etc.). A nature conservation policy and related financing instruments (including national and EU, e.g. LIFE + programme) provides support for the restoration of semi-natural grasslands, guidance on suitable management practices, as well as data collection and administration on distribution and quality of semi-natural grasslands. However, the nature conservation measures and financial resources are not sufficient for long-term maintenance of grassland biodiversity, and therefore the CAP support is acknowledged as the main financial instrument for achieving biodiversity conservation targets. This, however, requires close co-operation and coordination between the two sectors - agriculture and nature conservation - which so far has not been achieved in the Baltic States. The ecosystem service approach offers a holistic view on interactions between nature and humans, thus providing a suitable framework for policy and decision-makers to address conflicts and synergies between environmental and socio-economic goals and to balance different interests. Application of the ecosystem service approach in rural support policy would facilitate integration of ecological principles into agricultural practice and better targeting of interventions to areas with suitable agro-ecological conditions, thus increasing the efficiency and multi-functionality of the measures applied, as well as stimulating synergies between agricultural production and other ecosystem services. The ecosystem service approach can also be operationalised through spatial planning practices by defining the land use priorities based on the ecosystem service supply potential, as well as assessing trade-offs of different development alternatives. The Viva Grass integrated planning tool is designed to support application of the ecosystem service approach in land use planning and sustainable grassland management. Following the objectives of the LIFE Viva Grass project, as well as the concerns and opportunities described above, we have developed recommendations on how to: support maintenance of grassland biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by grasslands; foster ecosystem-based planning and land management; promote application of the integrated planning tool into daily processes of public administration at national, regional and municipality level.